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Pool fee change worries advocacy group

by Christy Chalmers

A plan to drop a separate fee for disabled users of the Carson Valley Swim Center has an advocacy group worried that some of its clients will be priced out of the pool.

Pool officials say they think the change wouldn’t affect many people and there are other, less expensive options.

The East Fork Swimming Pool District board has been mulling a recommendation to drop the $1.50 day use fee charged to disabled users and instead have them pay the charge that applies to their age group. For users under 17 or over 55, that wouldn’t mean a change, because children and seniors pay $1.50. For disabled people aged 18 to 54, the day rate would climb to $3 – the current adult price.

The proposal has the attention of the Carson City Center for Independent Living, an advocacy group that provides resources to people in Carson, Douglas, Lyon and Storey counties.

“We’re just concerned for the disabled community and the impact this could have on their recreational opportunities,” said Dee Dee Foremaster, a resource specialist for the group. “We’re not a bunch that want to take advantage of the system, but the fee needs to be there for the truly low-income disabled.”

Pool district officials began discussing the possible fee change in October, during an annual review of pool fees. They say a variety of factors, ranging from difficulties administering the disabled fee to assessing different user groups fairly, led to the potential change.

“We’re concerned about trying to be as equitable as possible and as affordable as possible,” said Bill Hamilton, vice chairman of the pool board. “It has always been part of the operating principle to make that pool as accessible to disabled people as possible and as affordable as possible. We’re trying to balance everyone.”

In addition to day rates, residents of the pool district can buy monthly, quarterly and annual passes. Children under 17 and seniors (over 55) can buy a monthly pass for $15, a three-month pass for $36.50 or an annual pass for $125.

Adults pay twice those amounts for the passes. Anyone can buy a card with 15 swims for $18, or $1.20 per use.

Foremaster agrees that monthly or annual passes might be cheaper than daily rates, but says coming up with that much money can be a problem for people on fixed incomes.

Pool Director Kirk Chiapella said all of the fees are heavily subsidized. To meet true operating costs, users would have to pay more than three times the current rates. Chiapella said Carson Valley rates are comparable to surrounding areas. South Lake Tahoe charges $2 per day to disabled users. Carson City has no disabled rate; users pay based on age.

n Reasons for a rate change. Hamilton said the East Fork board has tried to set rates that will generate 30 to 33 percent of the operating costs. With the addition of water slides and new pools that are set to open later this year, the board approached the annual fee review knowing increases might be needed.

“One recommendation was to drop the disabled fee,” he said. “That is one of the few fees that has remained at the low end. Another factor is that there are other options available, such as the punch card and the monthly passes. If you invest in those, you will end up getting a substantial discount.”

Hamilton and Chiapella said administration of the disabled passes has also proven difficult. Some who applied declined or refused to provide documentation of their disabilities, leading to abuse of the special rate.

The fourth, and possibly most salient factor, said Hamilton, is that many of the people eligible for the disabled rate would also qualify for the senior or child rates, so phasing out the disabled rate wasn’t expected to affect many people.

Foremaster said she was contacted by one person concerned about the impact, and Chiapella said he had received several calls by Friday, a day after the pool board discussed the issue.

Chiapella said he doesn’t know how many disabled users are in the 18 to 54 age group that would be affected by elimination of the rate, but pool personnel will begin tracking those numbers now, with the results to be presented in February, when the issue is to be discussed again.

n Comments from community welcomed. Pool officials stress that they are sensitive to the needs of disabled users, pointing to the accessible dressing rooms, bathrooms and attendants who are available, at no cost, to anyone who requests them. The facility’s warm pool is reserved specifically for disabled and senior users several hours a week.

Hamilton also said the pool board offered to work with the Carson City Center for Independent Living. He said the board asked the group how many would be affected by the fee change, and also asked if the center might consider contributing financially to give its clients a lower rate.

“They didn’t provide that information,” he said.

Foremaster says she wasn’t asked directly and considers the question unfair.

“Do they ask the senior citizens (groups) to contribute?” she asked.

Chiapella and Hamilton said they will continue to research the matter, asking local therapists and doctors for their opinions on the possible change and tracking the pool users. If a disabled fee is retained, Hamilton said the application process will probably be changed to require specific answers to objective questions that will determine whether users are eligible for a disability discount.

The pool board meets again Feb. 17.